Gov. Huckabee and a number of public health advocates gathered at the Dixie Cafe in Riverdale this afternoon to tout the state’s new anti-smoking law. It was mostly a pep rally for the law. Officials also offered reassurance that a battalion of “puff police” weren’t about to descend on Arkansas workplaces. But we think several speakers were right about this: The numbers, 3-to-1 nonsmokers, guarantee plenty of citizen enforcement, as does the aspect of the law that prevents retribution against an employee who blows the whistle on a non-compliant workplace.
Yes, there will be a few exceptions. “You can kill yourself if you want to,” was how Dr. Joe Thompson, the state health officer, put it. But there may not be so many as imagined. Thompson told us, for example, that he doesn’t believe the law allows a hotel to declare a bar within the same hotel building and business to declare itself a 21-and-older establishment and thus win exception from the smoking provision. This was a response to plans to that effect said to be underway for Mallards in the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock.
We asked the governor about his previous resistance to a state Board of Health attempt to ban restaurant smoking. He repeated that his resistance was only to singling out restaurants. He said he would have proposed a workplace smoke ban two years ago if he had thought it stood a chance in the legislature. Thompson and others said new studies since then on the dangers of secondhand smoke had built momentum for the new law.
Already, some in the crowd talked about how the law needs to go farther. If you’ve ever walked through the permanent funk at entrances to workplaces where smokers gather, you know what they mean. A buffer zone around businesses would be welcome.
City Director Stacy Hurst said she favored toughening the state law with additional city restrictions. She said Mayor Jim Dailey preferred a go-slow approach to let people get used to the new law. Go-slow has been the city’s watchword on this all along, to the detriment of public health.
One thing the city could do immediately is to get the no-smoking signs up in the pavilion at the west end of the River Market. It is now fully enclosed, though the windows are open. Too many people are smoking there among the vendors, an unpleasant greeting for people heading to lunch.